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R.I. church shines light, grows despite recent strife

WARWICK, R.I. (BP)–The FAITH evangelism strategy, a longstanding food pantry and an AWANA program with more than 100 youngsters each week are among the life-changing ministries at Faith Baptist Church in Warwick, R.I.

But strife also has been part of the mix in recent months, acknowledged Neil Olcott, in his fifth year as pastor of one of the three largest churches in the New England Baptist Convention.

Faith Baptist is stop No. 10 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation.

“We’ve gone through a bit of a difficult time since January,” Olcott said. “This is a time of some reconciliation, peacemaking and new growth as we reach outside our four walls into the communities around us.”

Despite the strife, which resulted in three deacons leaving the church, six people have been baptized since January.

“God is bringing more people to our church,” Olcott said. “I know it has been a hard time for this church but I can see God’s hand at work here and I believe He is going to do great things in the future.”

The pastor added, “My guess is that there are many pastors in many churches who know the sting of church conflict. The good news is that God knows that pain and He is sovereign in the midst of it. We must simply remain faithful to what He calls us to do and listen to His leading as we work through the conflicts.”

Describing “the mission field we have here,” Olcott said, “We live in such a [Roman] Catholic area. A lot of people do the ‘religion thing,’ but they don’t know what it means to have a real relationship with Christ.”

One woman in her 50s was led to the Lord during a visit by one of the church’s FAITH Sunday School teams in April. After she prayed that night and asked Jesus into her heart, there were lots of hugs and tears of joy, Olcott recounted. She is planning to be baptized this fall and attend the new members’ orientation class in September, along with 20 other new additions to the church, Olcott said.

“Part of our strategy for reaching people for Christ has been and will continue to be the FAITH outreach program,” the pastor said.

But Faith, with about 230 people in attendance every Sunday, doesn’t stop with FAITH.

Nearly 100 youngsters participated in a mid-August Vacation Bible School; at least three families started coming to the church as a result of that outreach.

Church members also plan to go through the discipleship study 40 Days of Purpose this fall.

The church’s food pantry ministry is more than 20 years old. Some people come three or more times a week when they’re without money for basic needs.

“The purpose of this pantry is to assist those in the Warwick community [and] immediate surrounding communities … as well as those struggling in our own congregation,” said Janice Healey, coordinator of the ministry, which is led by the church’s Women on Mission group. “This ministry is specifically for emergency assistance on a weekly or monthly basis due to some type of income loss, unexpected health issue, high repair bill, etc.”

The food pantry provides mostly nonperishable items and occasionally gift certificates for bread, milk and other essentials. It is funded by members of the congregation and by the church itself.

“Our aim is to become better stocked with the items people really need, and to hopefully grow to the place where people will actually have a choice of items,” Healey said.

The Women on Missions group also assembles “survival kits” for the church’s collegiate ministry; provides a women’s fall breakfast and a Christmas tea and cookie exchange; leads in the shopping for and assembling of Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets for Warwick families; and finds ways of supporting short term missionaries from the church.

Around Christmastime, church members take part in the Samaritan’s Purse shoebox drive for children. Members also participate in ministry to internationals and prison inmates in Rhode Island.

“We have had the opportunity to witness to about 250 prisoners as well as prison guards over the last several years,” said Tony Mancuso, who leads the church’s prison ministry. “To my knowledge, among the men who have been reached with the Word, just one has returned to the prison.”

The prison system normally has an 80 percent return rate, Mancuso added. Faith Baptist also provides support groups for people with addictions.